Elections Alberta will likely launch an investigation into the campaign financing of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party after a $430,000 donation from Edmonton billionaire and Oilers owner Daryl Katz ignited debate in the legislature.
An investigation could be launched after the complaints from Opposition parties led by the Wildrose Party are submitted to Elections Alberta.
However, the results of an investigation would be kept secret under current Alberta law.
On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Katz gave the Conservatives $430,000 in a single cheque near the end of the spring election campaign. According to a source close to the campaign, the donation was then divided up under other names. It arrived when the Conservatives were short on money and struggling to rebound against Wildrose.
The maximum allowable donation to a political party in Alberta from an individual person or company during an election campaign is $30,000. Elections Alberta has said splitting donations is allowed in some circumstances.
The issue dominated politics in Alberta on Thursday. In the legislature during Question Period, Ms.Premier Alison Redford took a barrage of questions.
The Alberta Premier said she asked the Progressive Conservative Party to consult with the province’s chief electoral officer over its election finances “to ensure that things are in full compliance.”
“We are confident with respect to the administration of our finances,” Ms. Redford said.
The opposition was incensed. There were calls for investigations and changes to Alberta’s Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.
Wildrose, which, led by Danielle Smith, was ahead of the Conservatives for most of the spring campaign, but had to settle for Opposition status, led the press in the legislature. Ms. Smith wants an investigation and said the donation could be an “ethical scandal of enormous proportions” and also called it an “apparent breach of the act.”
Public documents released on Wednesday show Mr. Katz, his immediate family and top executives at Katz Group and their companies gave $300,000 to the Tories. None of the people or companies mentioned as the donors would comment on Thursday.
Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson called on the Premier to have her party produce copies of the cheques and deposit slips to “prove that your hands are clean.”
Elections Alberta could demand copies of cheques as part of an investigation, a spokesman said, but nothing in the legislation addresses a single large cheque donation.
Facing a crush of reporters before Question Period, Ms. Redford said she didn’t know whether Mr. Katz did or did not write a cheque.
“Well, actually, I have no idea about that,” she said, later explaining she had been busy campaigning. Pressed on how she could not know about such a large sum, she replied: “Well, I’m absolutely telling you the truth. I’m absolutely telling you the truth.”
Ms. Redford said her party has done nothing wrong. “From my perspective, it’s not something that I’ve turned my mind to. Because from my perspective, we’re a party that’s followed the rules. We certainly stayed within all the contribution limits.”
The question of a $450-million hockey arena – with $100-million slated to come from the province, hung over the debate. Ms. Redford reiterated her stand against direct funding of the arena, which is a proposed deal between the City of Edmonton and Mr. Katz, who owns the Edmonton Oilers. In late March, during the campaign, Ms. Redford said it is “fine with us” if cities use provincially funded infrastructure money to help pay for the arena. The mayor has previously said the funding “isn’t an issue” and on Thursday, city spokeswoman Ronna Bremer said by e-mail, “We continue to believe that the project overall – as city infrastructure – is worthy of provincial support.”
- With a report from Josh Wingrove in Edmonton